Srila Giri Maharaja – “What is consciousness?”

On Jun 27, 2020, at 4:36 PM, a devotee wrote –

All gloríes to Guru and Gauranga

I am one of the Devotees of our Grace Govinda Maharaja, I currently am living in a small town in Iowa getting ready for college, and Guru Maharaja gave me my Spiritual name. I’m about to turn 42, because of my schizophrenia I had a misconception that consciousness had something to do with telepathy. The reason I’m asking you is basically you are one of the Acharyas, and a good one. I have seen you in videos and heard some podcasts. I really feel safe in my decision to take shelter of our Grace Acharya Maharaja and your holy lotus feet.

Thank you beforehand

Truly your servant

From same devotee –
Subject: consciousness
Date: June 24, 2020 at 6:25:24 PM EDT
To: info@scsmathglobal.com

Thank you maharaja I hope you are doing well.

After some prayers to different saviors like Gurudeva Govinda Maharaja, Jesus Christ, Prabhupada and Radha Govinda to clean my heart I had a revelation, which was that I had a misconception about consciousness, I believed it had something to do with telepathy. Therefore, I basically believed that everybody was listening to my thoughts, which weren’t that nice. I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia for more than 20 yrs, so I finish with my question: what exactly is consciousness beside an awareness of ourselves and the environment around us and how do we train our minds to follow our consciousness?
sincerely,

On June 28 2020 Srila Giri Maharaja wrote –

Please accept my blessings.

Were you initiated by Srila Govinda Maharaja during one of his visits to Soquel? I was there for all his visits. Did I meet you at some time?

I had a misconception about consciousness, I believed it had something to do with telepathy. Therefore, I basically believed that everybody was listening to my thoughts, which weren’t that nice. I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia for more than 20 yrs, so I finish with my question: what exactly is consciousness beside an awareness of ourselves and the environment around us and how do we train our minds to follow our consciousness?

Your statement and two questions are wonderful for they open to discussion the widest range of topics imaginable which can be contemplated and discussed in perpetuity to one’s fascination and interest and, as such, may never be fully understood. The discussion which shall follow is, therefore, only a limited and partial one as understood by the following:

yad yad vibhūtimat sattvaṁ
śrīmad ūrjitam eva vā
tat tad evāvagaccha tvaṁ
mama tejo-’ṁśa-sambhavam

Know that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My splendor.

Purport

Any glorious or beautiful existence should be understood to be but a fragmental manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s opulence, whether it be in the spiritual or material world. Anything extraordinarily opulent should be considered to represent Kṛṣṇa’s opulence.

— Bhaktivedanta Swami, Bg. 10.41

Considering the aforementioned there is nothing you stand to learn or gain at the college you plan to attend that is the equal of it.

Now, let us take a little time to clarify the meaning of some terms.

Consciousness, for the purposes of our discussion — unless otherwise noted — means spirit, that which is eternal and indestructible (excepting Krishna’s intervention).

“I had a misconception about consciousness” relegates your misconception about consciousness to the past. “I had” says you no longer have “a misconception about consciousness”, at least the particular misconception you state as “I believed it [consciousness] had something to do with telepathy.” I differ with that idea as all things known and unknown exist within consciousness. Therefore, telepathy (a thing) must have “something to do with” consciousness.

“schizophrenia | ˌskitsəˈfrēnēə, ˌskitsəˈfrenēə |
noun
a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.”

The preceding definition of schizophrenia, removed from its mundane references and translated into philosophical terms, almost perfectly describes the state of the conditioned soul in juxtaposition to his spiritually conscious state and, more particularly, to one in the state of pure Krishna consciousness.

what exactly is consciousness beside an awareness of ourselves

“Beside”, as used in the above, means “apart from”.

Not “ourselves” (the speaker and one or more other persons considered together) but our self i.e. one’s self, one’s essential being, for we cannot know the consciousness of others, those outside our self. Krishna (as purusha) can know the consciousness of all beings. All others are prakrti and can know only the consciousness of their self (one’s individual self).

As a prelude to answering your questions, please consider the following.

I seem to recall one of my earlier attempts at understanding the same questions you have as being derived from this verse, which, upon discovering it, I immediately memorized:

Bg. 2.17

avināśi tu tad viddhi
yena sarvam idaṁ tatam
vināśam avyayasyāsya
na kaścit kartum arhati

Synonyms
avināśi — imperishable; tu — but; tat — that; viddhi — know it; yena — by whom; sarvam — all of the body; idam — this; tatam — pervaded; vināśam — destruction; avyayasya — of the imperishable; asya — of it; na kaścit — no one; kartum — to do; arhati — is able.

Translation
That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.

Purport
This verse more clearly explains the real nature of the soul, which is spread all over the body. Anyone can understand what is spread all over the body: it is consciousness. Everyone is conscious of the pains and pleasures of the body in part or as a whole. This spreading of consciousness is limited within one’s own body. The pains and pleasures of one body are unknown to another. Therefore, each and every body is the embodiment of an individual soul, and the symptom of the soul’s presence is perceived as individual consciousness.

. . .

keśāgra-śata-bhāgasya
śatāṁśaḥ sādṛśātmakaḥ
jīvaḥ sūkṣma-svarūpo ’yaṁ
saṅkhyātīto hi cit-kaṇaḥ

“There are innumerable particles of spiritual atoms, which are measured as one ten-thousandth of the upper portion of the hair.”

Therefore, the individual particle of spirit soul is a spiritual atom smaller than the material atoms, and such atoms are innumerable. This very small spiritual spark is the basic principle of the material body, and the influence of such a spiritual spark is spread all over the body as the influence of the active principle of some medicine spreads throughout the body. This current of the spirit soul is felt all over the body as consciousness, and that is the proof of the presence of the soul. Any layman can understand that the material body minus consciousness is a dead body, and this consciousness cannot be revived in the body by any means of material administration. Therefore, consciousness is not due to any amount of material combination, but to the spirit soul.

In furtherance of the above:

the progressive understanding in God realization is not unscientific; it is really scientific. This is vijnana, scientific knowledge:

jnanam te’ ham savijnanam
idam vaksyamy aesatah
yaj jnatva neha bhuyo ‘nyaj
jnatavyam avasisyate

In the Bhagavad Gita (7.2) Krsna says, “Arjuna, now I shall explain to you scientific knowledge not only about the soul, but also about its potency. The mind, the senses, and the modes of nature are all non-atma, or material. There is a direct and indirect approach towards reality which I shall now explain to you. Please listen attentively to Me: jnanam te ‘ham sa vijnanam. What is this? There is Myself and My potency, and the jiva, the living entity, is the marginal potency which is filling up all these material worlds.” If the jivasakti, the spiritual potency, were withdrawn, then everything would be stone, and who would care for exploitation? All this fighting tendency, this tendency for exploitation would stop if the marginal potency, the jiva, were withdrawn from matter. Everything would be dead. The soul has entered into this material consciousness and has made it a moving thing. You should understand this properly, in a scientific way. We are not lacking in our ability to give you a scientific explanation.

— Srila B.R. Sridhara Maharaja, The Search For Sri Krsna

and

The soul approaches matter, the material world, but before that, he must pass through a shadowy stage of consciousness called cidabhasa. Consciousness passes through the shadow level of consciousness into matter, non-consciousness. And that shadow stage of consciousness has its personality. It is also conscious, and may be known as “Rahu.”

Every material conception presupposes a spiritual conception of that particular thing. The shadow through which consciousness must pass in order to perceive things as material has personality, and in the Bhagavatam, the rsis, the seers of the truth, are addressing it as Rahu. Because they are highly developed, they find the personal aspect of existence everywhere. What we perceive to be dead matter, they perceive to be conscious. Therefore, they always take the personal perspective.

The soul, when going to experience any material conception, will have to pass through a medium which influences his consciousness to see things as material. What is concrete matter is unknown. It is a mere effect of consciousness. As everything material must have some conscious origin, or origin in personal consciousness, there must be a personal conception of the sun, the moon, the Earth, and all the planets. Before we reach the conception of a shadow or any other object, the soul has to pass through a conscious stage. That stage has some spiritual existence as a person. Therefore the Bhagavatam refers to the sun, the moon, and the planet Rahu, as persons. Everything – the Earth, the moon, the stars, the planets – has a personal conception. In the background of what we can perceive with our dull senses, everything that is said to be matter, there must be a personal conception. Without the influence of a personal conception, consciousness cannot reach the stage of gross matter.

Therefore, in the ancient scriptures we find that the great sages and rsis are always addressing everything within this world as a person. Although to us it is dead matter, they have considered them as persons. Why? The matter is rather the shadow of the personal entity. The personal, conscious entity is more real, and the matter we perceive through dimmed consciousness is less real.

— Srila B.R. Sridhara Maharaja, Subjective Evolution of Consciousness

While the above quotations are relevant to your questions and help answer them, they serve, more or less, as mere introductions to the answers you seek, reminding us of the unlimited characteristic of such questions and their answers.

Your two questions are, specifically: 1.) “what exactly is consciousness beside an awareness of ourselves and the environment around us” and 2.) “how do we train our minds to follow our consciousness?”

what exactly is consciousness beside an awareness of ourselves and the environment around us

The answer is within your question when it is framed in this way “What exactly is consciousness other than an awareness of my self and the environment around me”? A little contemplation of this question will cause one to conclude “Nothing.” There is nothing outside “an awareness of my self and the environment around me.” These two things are all inclusive. “My self” means nitya krsna dasa, “I, an eternal servant of Krishna” and “the environment around me”, which is everything outside my self, is Vaikuntha-vrtti, the totality of existence, consciousness and beauty (sat, cit, ananda). Therefore, consciousness may be understood to be “an awareness of my self and the environment around me.”

Next you ask: “how do we train our minds to follow our consciousness?” The mind is the servant of consciousness. What I believe you want to know is how do you divorce yourself from material consciousness in order to marry Krishna consciousness? Once one is in Krishna consciousness, the mind will follow as a servitor of one’s Krishna consciousness. The training required to bring one to that stage of development is the surrender of one’s inferior consciousness to the superior consciousness of Sri Guru who is found within the higher Vaishnavas.

I thank you for your questions which are very thought provoking. I expect to post the above on our website. If you prefer I not include your name please let me know ASAP.

I pray this finds you well in health and spirits.

Sincerely,

Swami B.K. Giri

Ps: Please note: “I am one of the Devotees of our Grace Govinda Maharaja . . . “ indicates a wrong idea. Srila Govinda Maharaja is not “our Grace”, the construct of our magnanimity, but His Divine Grace, one who represents the grace of the Supreme, Sri Krishna.